by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Guy Who Buys Too Much Stuff for His Cats…
They had me at “meow.”
They lost me at “sign up.”
I was flipping through Facebook when it caught my eye — an ad featuring a cat lounging in some Jetsons-age contraption:
Since I’m addicted to furry creatures with pointy ears and tuna breath, I was hooked. Since I also dig on futuristic design, particularly anything with the word “pod” in it, I clicked…
And that click constituted an act of extreme rarity.
The click-through rates on Facebook ads have plummeted to such abysmal lows, Facebook’s own head of measurement and insights is publicly disavowing them. Instead, he’s hyping the value of “awareness” and other metrics used by old-school media and previously ridiculed by new-media zealots. (For more on the new media flip-flop on metrics, see my post, “And The Standards Go Out The Browser Window: Banner Ad-Nauseum”).
So call CNN and issue a tweet: here was a Facebook user tearing himself away from his friends’ posts to actually click on an ad.
And just as quickly, I clicked away, pausing only long enough to capture the landing page so I could share it here:
The ad took me to some site I’d never heard of, Fab.com, and I could see the Cat Pod that had been promised. The problem? I couldn’t learn anything more about the Pod, or the website selling it, since the site is “by invitation only.” Really? They ran an ad on Facebook to take me to a members-only site?
Ah, but I could gain access: I just had to provide my email address first.
Podded Cat Meets Old Dog
Now, when it comes to these here Internets, I’m an old dog who knows some old tricks. Way back when most of us “information-superhighway” travelers had accounts on Prodigy, Earthlink, and AOL, I learned that if you give some stranger your email address, you’ll likely get back stuff you don’t really want. So these days, I give out my email address begrudgingly, even if it involves brands I know well. And I still get annoyed. I recently gave my email address to Groupon, and they responded by bombarding me with discounts on tanning sessions, teeth whitening, and other offers I usually leave in my spam folder. At least I could trust Groupon to go away once I unsubscribed (which they did).
But who the hell is Fab.com? Would they share my email address with Nigerian princes or the hucksters behind the “congratulations you’ve won an iPod” talking banner ads? Isn’t it customary to get to know someone, or enable them to know you, before asking for their email address?
So I bailed. I figured my cats could live without $79 pods. I’ll console them with an empty cardboard box instead (which they would likely prefer).
And Fab.com is a classic example of “friction” in e-commerce.
Friction is anything that makes websites more difficult for visitors. That could be a long registration form, a dysfunctional search engine, or simply too many clicks to get to the products they want. In the bricks-and-mortar world, customers have to put up with some friction, such as essentials stashed in the back of the store, or mathematically illiterate shopping-cart stuffers in the “12 items or less” line. But on the Internet, friction lets prospective customers slip away. (Get it — “friction” and “slip away”?) Who needs hassle when hundreds of other sites will happily take our money just a click away?
Now I understand any brand wanting to create an exclusive shopping experience. Stringing up that velvet rope, real or virtual, can make a business more enticing, since it keeps out the “riff-raff” and makes those admitted feel “special.” But before a brand can do that, it must make people want it in the first place. You can’t put up a velvet rope and have no one but the bouncer waiting beside it. And creating that desire requires marketing.
You must let people know you exist and that you pack a whole lot of awesome before you ask them to jump through hoops.
Fab.com did neither of those things. Now, as far as I know, Fab.com could be an amazing company run by kitten-rescuing Buddhist nuns with immaculate manicures and masters degrees in legal ethics. But prior to spotting this Facebook ad, I had never heard of them before, and since I couldn’t peek inside their site, I had no idea what else they offered beyond the $79 Cat Pods. They just wanted my email address up front for something unknown that’s by invitation only.
Now, that measurement-and-insights dude at Facebook can talk all he wants about how his ads are best used to create impressions. Ironically, the Fab.com Facebook ad was successful in generating a click-through. It was the impression that was far less than impressive.
Update 3/4/14: Fab.com proved to be less than fabulous. The company burned through its $330 million in funding and ultimately sold for $15 million — and I would argue that’s even too much. Proof that money doesn’t make up for bad marketing.